Friday, July 27, 2018

Living on a duck egg embryo's tale

A duck egg's embryo called "balut"
MANILA -- As dusk sets in, a limping woman would carefully load up a basket full of egg embryos called “balut” in Tagalog, along with her small stool, on a small wooden cart and slowly descend to the street corner about 200 meters away from where she lived.

Wearing her usual black sweater and a bull cap, Aling Inday, a native of Leyte province, would slowly position her cart on the sidewalk, close to the terminal of tricycles and jeepneys, where hungry drivers would usually buy “balut” to energize themselves from a hard day’s drudgery.

Not far from her favorite spot is the police substation, where she could always run to file a complaint if anybody bothers her. She eases herself down on a stool to wait for customers; lights her small kerosene lamp to provide a little illumination enough to distinguish the money that changed hands between her and the customers. This activity goes all the way until the egg contents of the basket have been sold out. Then she goes home at past midnight, counts her night’s earnings and lay down on the couch, which serves as her temporary bed. Home is a small wooden shack that stands along the edge of the Pateros River.

Pateros River empties into the Pasig River, a major water tributary in Metro Manila that was envisioned to become an alternative route for public commuters in Metro Manila, with the Metro Manila Development Authority as the lead agency to manage the program. Water ferries had to ply the route between Guadalupe in Makati City to Escolta, Manila, where passengers can take off, and vice versa. After a couple of years into the program, Pateros River had dried up for reasons unknown to many. It didn’t only cut the livelihood of the people living along the river but also killed the “balut” industry where a lot of people have to depend on for their livelihood.

I had been a witness as I lived only across the river in the village of Comembo, a part of Makati City on the other side. A concrete bridge separated the town of Pateros from Comembo. Across the river each morning, I could see how duck raisers on the other side would tend to their flocks of brown ducks to forage for shells on the river. But everything went to standstill when water stopped flowing into the tributary.

Per my recollection, Aling Inday, a neighbor of ours, gets up at dawn to rush up to a nearby wholesaler located across the bridge that connects the village of Comembo, Makati City to the town of Pateros, then a popular hub for this exotic egg embryo where thousands of vendors from across Metro Manila would congregate in order to get their orders in the soonest possible time on a “first come, first served basis.” Whoever comes the earliest would be first on the line, a dictum that has persisted for so many decades.

Over many decades, this economic scenario has been portrayed as a surreal depiction of what the “balut” industry did to at least provides livelihood to some hopeless but industrious people who try to make a living under the dog-eat-dog completion.

Nobody would ever thought that the Pateros River, which has become a haven for thousands, if not millions, of mallard ducks which labeled the small town of Pateros as the “egg embryo” capital of the Philippines since the pre-war years.

"Balut" vendors would slowly descend most of Metro Manila city street pavements to peddle their goods thus transforming empty corners into a hectic frenzy, but also allowing them these enterprising mortals to survive in the midst of the dog-eat-dog competition.       

Lit by a kerosene lamp beside her basketful of balut eggs, the female vendor sits, huggling her knees to her breast to at least to warm her   body from the night's cold breeze created by the monsoon season and oblivious of the risks that might occur as she awaits for customers.       

From time to time, passers-by, some drunks and some are ordinary workers who just wanted to add more energy to their tired bodies, do drop by to buy one, two or three pieces, depending on how much cash they have in their pockets.        

The vendor looks up with a welcome smile and readily unfurls the thick, white cloth that is used to cover the eggs and to preserve the heat inside the basket. Then she carefully picks the egg that is good for the unsuspecting customer, who makes sure that it contains more yolk , aside from the chick embryo   inside its shell. After the customer pays for a piece of egg, he immediately breaks its shell and sips its warm, salty liquid that could provide more nourishment to the body.      

As always, this is the case. But more than this, selling of "balut" egg (a duck's embryo) has become a source of livelihood for the unschooled and for those who merely wanted to earn extra income. Everyday is a drudgery, from dusk till dawn, generating an income that is barely enough to buy them food.       

Although, Westerners look at it as a spoiled delicacy never seen elsewhere in the   world. But "balut" or embryonated duck's egg is a favorite food of average income Filipinos, whose penchant for this exotic delicacy have not slackened in years. But mind you, professionals are slowly smitten by this delicacy, too.       

In fact, the balut industry has contributed a lot to enhancing the country's "livestock revolution", a program that is expected to bring brighter prospects for
the poor.       

In the Philippines, for more than two decades since the 80s, poultry contributions to agriculture and per capita   utilization has been steadily growing.         

The duck industry, for one, has been a great contributor.   In fact, volume of production of duck eggs in 2001 was up again 0.84 percent, compared to its
2000 figures. But demands will continue to grow, particularly in the developing countries.         

This, according to development analyst, is a livestock revolution that holds promise for relieving widespread micronutrient and protein malnutrition while
intensifying smallhold agriculture, the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) reported.        

From 1991 to 2000, for instance, volume of duck eggs grew from 33,456 to 53,631 tons during the same period.  As duck raising is a lucrative business in the Philippines, it has therefore been an important source of income to the farmers, especially those living near bodies of water.   Ducks are usually raised for their eggs, which are made into "balut" (embryonated 16 to 18-day-old eggs) or salted eggs.          

It added that a 1000-head layer duck production module is capable of generating a return-on-investment (ROI) of 20 percent and 47 percent for the first and second year, respectively.        

Besides bringing in the needed nutrition and cash to resource poor farmers and enterprising businessmen, the "powerful duck" also help rid ricefields of the
eggs of golden apple snail, a pest that is causing damage to the ricefields.        

Ducks also feed on the snails, which serve as intermediate host for larval stages of the parasite causing fasciolosis to buffaloes, cattle, and goats. 

By allowing 4 to 5-month-old ducks to graze on rice 35-40 days after planting, at a stocking rate of 800-1000 ducks per hectare, farmers not only eliminate the proliferation of unwanted snails but also minimize weed formation.          

As ducks trample and feed on them, savings on weeding are realized while taking advantage of rice leftovers after harvest.   And with their fecal droppings all over the field, soil fertility is improved.        

In some Asian countries and in some swine farms in the country, ducks are also used to aerate stagnant water in lagoons and canals where waste materials flow.   By allowing the ducks to wade in them, the stagnant water is disturbed, allowing oxygen to penetrate and dissolve.         

Considering that the country has the needed breeds to make a profitable enterprise, the duck industry therefore has enough chance to make the livestock revolution work for the poor.  

The Philippine Mallard duck or "itik" and the Muscovy duck or "bibe" are popular breeds raised for egg and meat, respectively. The country earlier produced
the Laguna duck, another meat-type duck produced from a three-way cross among the Peking drake, the Philippine Mallard and the Muscovy drake, a similar breed to the Taiwan mule duck.   It has an average feed efficiency of 3.20 and offers better quality meat.       

Furthermore, the duck industry has a competitive advantage over other poultry industries. Ducks require little attention and thrive well on almost all kinds
of environmental conditions.   They are also highly resistant against common avian diseases.   Unlike chicken, they have a longer life span.        

It is easy to see that indeed the duck is a powerful and versatile animal, potent enough to be relied upon to sustain its role in the livestock revolution, the DOST said.  

After so many years of economic upheavals, due to close competition from other balut (duck egg) producers, the industry went into a limbo. The former town of Pateros (now a city in Metro Manila) used to be the beehive of the duck egg-producing industry in the Philippines until its unexpected demise after Martial Law.

 The military regime had nothing to do with it. From where I lived across the Pateros River in Comembo, Makati City in the 70s, I could clearly see how the ducks’ owners herded and fed them early in the morning on a patch of land on the side of the river where they’re normally housed. Each morning, they’re let loose to feed and allowed to cleanse themselves on the river for a couple of hours.

Under the current regime, where thousands had been killed for selling illegal drugs, selling "balut" eggs would be a better option to fight poverty. But that could only be realized if the government would provide a little capital for these impoverished lot, many of them had been hauled off to the police stations on a recent crackdowns for being branded as "istambays".


Monday, October 24, 2016

A tribute to a forgotten soldier

Angel "Bulaw" Gutierrez resting in bed at home.
After parking my pen for a while,  the urge to get back to what I was doing since my semi-retirement in 2004 has again rekindled within me upon learning that a close relative is suffering from a serious ailment.

I thought that the fire that's burning inside me has been extinguished completely. Admittedly, I was wrong.

In fact, I forgot about it already until I got a message from a first cousin whose husband is currently stationed in Shanghai. Amie broke to me the sad news that his father needed a bypass surgery. Doctors at the Philippine Heart Center first diagnosed his father's ailment to be needing an angioplast surgery. However, further examinations revealed that something more complicated needed to be done.

According to Amie,  she thought that it was okay to proceed with the heart operation. But the doctor who examined him said that it's no longer possible to push through with the impending surgery because his chance of survival is only 10 percent. In short, he's back to square one.

Had the heart operation went through, it would have been worth a fortune for a retiree who's solely dependent on his meager pension as a former non-commissioned officer of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP). Had he not worked in the United States for a couple of years, life would have been much harder for someone whose penchant for a good life was his enjoyment. But despite this edge, the man is still groaning under the weight of the social ill's that gripped most Filipinos. And had the surgery pushed through, the cost was almost worth of a brand new car. What's money anyway compared to extending one more life?

As immediate members of the family exhausted all means to resolve the problem at hand,  a silly question cropped up in my mind asking why should a government hospital like the Philippine Heart Center (PHC) whose budget comes from the government's general appropriations, charge so much even from indigent patients?

And who can question the Hippocratic wisdom of heart surgeons who may or may not invoke their Code of Silence in so far as revealing the true medical information of patients that they intend to treat? I couldn't imagine that from angioplast surgery, the case was elevated to the level of bypass surgery. Was this also meant to bleed the poor patients so that they could live a few more years? Surely, nobody knows!

Just for a brief backgrounder, the person I'm referring to in this article is none other than Mr. ANGEL MANUEL GUTIERREZ. But who is Mr. Gutierrez? Many of us don't have the complete idea as to who this man is? What are his exploits and contributions to his beloved country?

To those who don't know him, Angel "Bulaw"  Gutierrez is a living witness to the atrocities of wars in Korea and Vietnam, where he served as a member of the 14th BCT, and the Philippine Civic Action Group (Philcag).

Prior to these, he enlisted in the military at a very young age, where he first saw action during the Kamlon Campaign in Sulu. His sterling career was tested in the battle fields of  Lebak, Cotabato where he fought side by side with then Maj. Gringo Honasan (now a senator) when they were both members of the Ist Composite Infantry Battalion in Camp Aquinaldo in the fight against the Moro  National Liberation Front headed by Prof. Nur  Misuari. He was supposed to receive a gold cross for gallantry in action but it never happened, a feat that he is always proud to share to his family circle and friends alike. Still he's thankful to the Almighty that he was able to retire. But only to be remanded to the sideline later on.

Popularly known to his townmates and comrades in the military as a good leader and a field tactician, Bulaw's military career remains as colorful as ever, whose boyhood life was nurtured in the countryside of Leyte province.

He wasn't only considered a professional soldier, but he's also earned the respect of his senior officers and peers simply because of his abiding faith in the principles that he's fighting for. To sum it all up, Bulaw is proud to say that he became part of the military as a young man to serve the best that he could for his country.

He was trained as an Airborne paratrooper, a Scout Ranger, a member of the Special Forces, a counter-intelligence operative, an ASAC agent, and a paramedic. These are just some of his accomplishments when he was still active in the service.

In the Korean War, he rubbed elbows with then Fidel V. Ramos who eventually became president. In Vietnam, he made it to the top eight of the graduates of the Reconnaissance Commando Course (Recondo) conducted by the elite "Green Beret". Former AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Lisandro Abadia was his classmate. They both made it with flying colors.

Honestly, I felt a bit guilty for holding it for so long in my brain. But as I had promised him over several cases of beer before, I find it an auspicious moment for me to ponder and recollect our previous conversations to come out with this exhaustive and memorable piece about the person whom I looked up to with deep respect. To all of us, whom he harbored during those critical years of our existence, I salute you once more for old time's sake.

Most of all, thank you for being a father-figure to us. Honestly, we cherish every moment we shared together while we're under your wings.Our only wish right now is for you to overcome the pain you're going through. We will continue praying for you so that the Unseen Hand will bring a miracle to heal you completely.

Lastly, we're all proud of you. Thanks for everything, uncle! I knew that you didn't retire but you only faded away. I knew, too, that the souls of your siblings, including mother, are looking down upon you as you battle it out with that malady. Be strong and you'll get through with it, with God's blessings!

Again, thank you for everything!

Friday, September 16, 2016

A lone witness from the wilderness

Fiesty Philippine President Rody "Digong" Duterte just kept mum 
Former DDS hitman Edgar Matobato
answers questions at the
Senate public hearing.
on the allegations of a former member of the Davao Death Squad
 (DDS) that he ordered the killing of at least 1000 victims while Duterte served as mayor of Davao City.

His silence on the accusations of a certain Edgar Matobato, a former DDS hitman who got his wages as part of the ghost employees of the Davao City hall,  can be misconstrued as a kind of recollection if he indeed was involved in such killings? 

Unlike in the previous occasions, President Duterte has a habit of cursing and mouthing bad words when confronted in public, a trademark which no longer surprise a lot of his supporters and cabinet officials. "That's his character," one of the cabinet officials said.

Or it could be that President Duterte is thinking something else?

With Koko Pimentel's denial of providing protective custody to Matobato by the Senate chamber, there is danger that the witness could be a "deadman walking." Matobato can't be put under the protective custody of the Department of Justice (DOJ), knowing that Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre is an appointee and ally of President Duterte.

Perhaps, the only remaining option for Matobato, or the officials who are behind the coming out of the lone witness, is to temporarily remand him to the custody of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). As an independent constitutional body, CHR can take custody of Matobato for a while. Until such time that Senator Leila de Lima can find a way to keep this witness secure somewhere.

But who is really behind Matobato's coming out in the open? Even if Matobato barely finished elementary grades, he could sense the gravity of the situation where he's in right now. And it is not easy and simple thing to accuse the leader of the land, who is notorious for being tough on crimes and illegal drugs, for ordering the unwanted killings of individuals in Mindanao. Matobato knew in advance that he is no longer safe now.

Simply said, a lot of uncanny things may happen to him if he ventures outside without bodyguards. But worse comes to worst, his only retrieve is to seek political asylum somewhere else. That he can decide for himself if is given the option to jump into the fenced off area of any foreign embassies of his own choice. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Betting on luck

 LOS ANGELES--On any given Sunday morning, a bunch of people congregate at the copious parking lot of a big retail store chain at the corner of Main and Carson Streets in the city of Carson.

But don’t mistake them for early morning shoppers . Instead, they’re a blend of ordinary workers and pensioners, who simply couldn’t think of anything else to do to battle it out with boredom. On such a given day, they made it a habit to wait for a private bus that will take them to casinos in Las Vegas Strip, Pala and Pechanga--two border casino resorts in California, to try their luck on gaming.

This is the usual scene here each Sunday morning. While the rest of the flock attend a mass at a nearby Catholic Church to atone for their sins on such a special day, they’re enjoying the luxury of exchanging pleasantries and whatever jokes they could afford to belt out in their own native languages—Tagalog, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and, of course, English.

From a distant, I could hear the echoes of their laughter, and their faces brighten up as the driver of the white shuttle bus approaches slowly to pull over along side. As the door opens, each one carefully climbs aboard and readily settle on his respective cushioned seats, which provides each one enough comfort to endure the five-hour long drive to the Las Vegas Strip.

As competition heats up in the gaming business, some casino operators have turned to this marketing strategy a long time ago as a means to lure people, many of them pensioners, to while away their extra time for a free commute to and from the different casino destinations in Las Vegas and other casino resorts close to San Diego.

And who wouldn't bite the offer? As a casino patron, each is given a small gift certificate amounting to $25, which he can initially bet on the slot machines. And the same bus will take the passengers back early the next day on the same spot where they were picked up.

No wonder many senior citizens and employees are spending their days-off by going back and forth to Las Vegas without let up.

“This is more convenient and economical compared to driving your own car, which can save a lot of mileage and gas,” explains one of the male passengers who declined to be named, an avid gambler who works at one of the private hospitals in Torrance, California.

Whether he likes it or not, he and his girlfriend are terribly hooked to this vice.
Sources told this writer that the live-in couple would always set aside some extra money which they could use as bets whenever they’re in Las Vegas. But I learned that they seldom or don’t win at all. As the borrowing grew, their debts are piling up.

What is it that he’s after for? “ I just want to win the jackpot. Then, perhaps, I can go home for good,” he told this writer once. Home is Cavite City, Philippines, where the famous Sangley Point, a U.S. naval base was located many years back.

However, dreaming of winning the jackpot is like “wishing for the moon.” For many years now, the gambler’s wish hasn’t come true yet. Who knows? It could be tomorrow or never at all.

While other pensioners are always dreaming of hitting the jackpot in Las Vegas, Jessie Belicano, 89, sticks around. Besides, he couldn’t leave his ailing wife, who underwent a heart operation a couple of years ago. On most days, he could be seen leisurely shuttling between stores in search for the lucky scratcher card that he expects to give him some instant jackpot. Once this happens, Belicano is likely to go home for good, especially now that his wife is getting weaker and weaker every day.

Facing this dilemma right now are some U.S. war veterans and their wives, especially those who have no life insurance as they’re no longer qualified to be insured due to their advancing age. And they’re in for a big trouble when they die in America.

I was talking to one of the daughters of a Fil-Am war veteran who brought up to me her parent’s concern. She confided to me that her concern at the moment is whether to bring her back home or not. At least, it is much cheaper to die in the Philippines that to die in the United States. Airlifting the body will already cost the family about $2,000. What about the embalming services and the coffin?, the daughter asked.

I had suggested that if anybody is in a limbo like her, the best solution is to go back home now while the concerned has the senses. Otherwise, the concerned family may be spending at least $10,000 for the burial services.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Economic refugees: Are they scourge to U.S. economy or not?

At least, 12 million of them are scattered across America. And they’re branded as “economic refugees.”
Farm workers in California. Photo:

Without proper immigration papers with them, they’re at the mercy of being deported should they commit traffic violations at any point in time.

It's either they have crossed the border illegally through the help of human smugglers called "Coyotes", or they simply landed at the ports as tourists with proper documents stamped by immigration authorities but overstayed their visas, and went underground without any trace at all.

Depending on circumstances, most of those border-crossers from South America are reportedly victims of violence in their home countries who are left without any other
option at all than to escape. Oblivious of the risks along the way, these people have properly blended themselves with other people. But finding no other recourse to survive in a foreign shore, they were put in an uncanny situation where their only means to fill up their empty stomachs and, perhaps, to repay the huge debts they paid to smugglers, is to do odd jobs in a land where Americans hate or tired of doing.

Referred by friends or deployed through registered manpower agencies,  most of them can be seen cleaning houses, serving as nannies, landscapers, construction workers, farm workers and so forth and so on. And they can easily be found hanging around at Home Depots and elsewhere, waiting for long hours at any given opportunity that may come their way.

While the other group of migrants legally entered the United States either as citizens of the waiver countries or as businessmen, students or tourists from developing countries with valid visas stamped on their respective passports.

But what sets them apart from each other is that a big portion of those coming from Third World countries like Southeast Asia can speak the English language. And many of the tourists are either skilled or professionals in their own making. With or without pending petitions from relatives but their dreams,  many of them just want to make it quickly to America.

Foremost in their minds is their over eagerness to improve their lives and that of their families back home. With meager wages in their home countries, they could hardly make both ends meet. To break this spell, what most of them have in mind is to try their luck somewhere else, in an advanced country where what they expect to get is five times higher than what they get at home.

With the continuing implementation of stringent regulations made by the Department of Homeland Security, especially after the September 11 bombing of the Twin Towers in New York City, backlogs in the processing of immigration-related documents have piled up unprecedentedly. Unfortunately, the long wait, which normally takes more than 10 to 15 years for immediate relatives to rejoin their families in the U.S., has been cut short by taking advantage of applying for a tourist visa, pending the approval of their petitions.

It was only early this year when the federal government has announced the giving of parole to relatives of thousands of Filipino-American war veterans, most of them are
already in their twilight years, who were petitioned many years back to come over temporarily in order to take care of their elderly or sickly parents until such time that their petitions are officially approved. This is separate from the reunification program where even those who were not petitioned can be processed to join their surviving parents in America.

Despite these positive developments occurring a couple of months away from the holding of the national elections in November, apprehensions are percolating that the nomination of business tycoon Mr. Donald Trump,  as the GOP's presumptive presidential candidate against former Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton as the nominee for the Democratic Party, could make a backlash on the true mission and political intentions of the GOP after Trump made foul-mouthed and racist statements against the Hispanic communities in America.

After a lull on the waves of border crossings made by thousands of women and children late last year,  the surge has again reignited by the thought that should the GOP succeeds in taking the rein of leadership in America, Trump would build a long concrete wall that will make it impossible for Hispanic migrants to cross the border illegally.

It goes without saying that the campaign threat made by Trump to build a high and long concrete wall may have sparked the massive border crossings last early June.

If the skilled and professional citizens of Third World nations are given the chance to work in the West without hitches, they would simply welcome the idea and go for it without any hesitation. That’s my gut-feeling!

Is China serious to mend ties with America?

China's President Xi Jinping's recent scheduled visit to the United States on Sept. 22-24 last year
U.S. President Obama and President Xi.
was  a matter of diplomatic mission, perhaps, to further strengthen the ties that bind between the two countries.

But to other political experts, Xi's  visit to the White House was properly choreographed to let the world know that China is a friendly nation that is always ready to shake hands with other leaders even in the midst of a controversy that involves national security.

As reported by Bloomberg Businessweek (Sept. 21-27 issue), the Chinese leader's visit had two goals: "to reassure executives that China is still a good place to do business, and to secure for China the respect due a state of equal in stature to the United States."

Maybe true, maybe not. That is probably what other pundits are talking about, knowing how China's aggressive stance on the issue of human rights violations, cybersecurity and the tensions that its military has created in the South China Sea.

Aware of these issues, the U.S. government has, in fact, urged China to "speed up its financial reforms so as to avoid another repeat of the summer's stock market crash or the poorly managed devaluation of the yuan--events that shook the world markets."

Orville Schell, director of the U.S.-China Relations in New York, told Bloomberg: "The relationship is not great and has been getting worse."  While Zhu Feng, professor of international relations at Nanjing University, readily agreed. He added in the Bloomberg report: "A lot of things have piled up, and the stakes have never been higher to deal with these accumulated concerns."

Despite the diplomatic respects that the U.S. government has shown during Chinese leader's visit, the "administration appears far from treating China as an equal."

Some political observers believed that the U.S. is still superior than China. And I wouldn't be surprised at all why China has acted the way it should? Of course, it is public knowledge that China holds trillions of U.S. commercial debts. However, it doesn't mean that the U.S. will kneel down to the pressures that China would want to impose without first mending its slightly severed ties with the United States.

One the serious issues that China should address impinges on the "cyber espionage emanating from China after it breached the U.S. Office of Personnel Management where it exposed the records of some 20 million current, former and prospective federal employees." Suspects in the said breach were believed to be Chinese hackers who stole commercial information. In fact, President Obama said on Sept. 11 at Fort Meade in Maryland that "cyber attacks are not acceptable." Although Obama didn’t specifically mentioned that it was done by the Chinese hackers upon the dictate of Chinese officials.

If this concern rings true, how on earth could China do such a breach while at the same time, coming to the U.S. to woe more prospective businesses to relocate in China? The situation has a semblance to a story of a "wolf coming in a sheep's clothing."

To some observers, China's actions may be misconstrued as a wagging of its tail for having accumulated so much debt papers that the U.S. may not be able to redeem in the future. Perhaps, this is a secret weapon that China is trying to display, if only to show the world that it has an economic edge over the U.S. now?
For a moment, the world has yet to wait on the sideline whether the soured relationship between the two countries could be mended in due course. But with the outcome of President Obama’s recent official visit to China, where international political observers were surprised to learn of China’s failure to give the U.S. leader a “red carpet” welcome at the airport? Sources said it was a move by Washington to not roll out the red carpet on account that the Chinese driver of the ramp at the tarmac couldn't speak and understand English. 

Was this China’s deliberate attempt to let the world know that it isn’t happy about the United States’ interference in the South China Sea disputes with some claimants, especially the Philippines which won a favorable ruling in July 2016 from the Permanent Court of Arbitration concerning its valid claims over some of the islands and reefs in the South China Sea based on the provisions enshrined in the charter of the United Nations on the Law of the Sea, which China is a signatory. Yet, it continues to violate what it signed for by merely invoking the historical significance of its ancient claims on almost all parts of the South China Sea.

Ignoring the ruling of the arbitral tribunal, China continues its elaborate display of military might by reclaiming some of the islands and reefs inside Philippine territorial waters. Latest of which is China’s attempt to build infrastructures at the Scarborough Shoal, which is only about 120 nautical miles from Zambales province in Luzon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

President Duterte warns Supreme Court

Philippine President Rody Duterte has warned the Supreme Court that he would declare Martial Law if it gets in his way.

President Duterte's tirade emanated from the recent wranglings that involved certain judges who were linked to the distribution of illegal drugs in the Philippines. The names of the judges surfaced when Duterte read a list in public, along with some local government officials, policemen, and judges were mentioned there.

The fiesty president ordered those whose names appeared on the list to present themselves within 24 hours to the Director-General of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame.

But the President Duterte's announcement didn't bode well with SC Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who argued that the erring judges are under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, and not by the Executive Branch of government.

In short, Sereno wanted the erring judges to be investigated by the Supreme Court instead of the police.

Prior to this, local government officials who were reportedly linked to illegal drugs had been asked to clear their names or face sanctions from the government. The policemen involved in illegal drugs were grounded in Camp Crame while their cases are being investigated by the PNP's Internal Affairs Service.

The involvement of judges, local officials and the law enforcers in this illegal drugs trade is appalling to anyone's senses. The previous administrations had done nothing to curtail the illegal proliferation of this problem. News reports said illegal drugs that were seized by the police are recycled back to the market.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Atmosphere of calm prevails in disputed territories

Permanent Court of Arbitration, The Hague.
Photo: PCA
The Red Dragon has stopped spewing fire, and it seems it’s now behaving in a forthright manner after the Permanent Court of Arbitration handed down its final decision on July 12 which favored the legal complaint filed by the Philippines against China on what it perceived as an illegal intrusion on Philippine sovereignty.

As expected, this didn't come as a great surprise to many Filipinos.

Even before the decision was handed down, I could already sense of glitter of hope would come as expected, after the Philippines had filed a complaint before the arbitral tribunal on the manner by which China asserts its rights over the disputed territories in the South China Sea, considering that it was clear from the start that China has violated an important provision set forth by the United Nations on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS), in which China is a signatory.

As I was saying before, China may have withdrawn its support of the UNCLOS and may have not affixed its signature at all, knowing that some provisions in the convention would surely affect its historic rights to most parts of the South China Sea.

Experts on international maritime laws said that invoking historic rights to most territories in the South China Sea, as indicated by the nine-dash line, would be difficult to do. They have argued that ancient maps, for example, which could serve as the primary evidence that would identify established boundaries being claimed by China, couldn't be used as proofs to its rightful claims to most parts of the disputed territories in the SCS.

For one, ancient maps cannot serve as a reliable evidence in courts because of their crudeness and some imperfections on how they were made which might create some overlapping of the sovereign boundaries, experts said.

What is clear right now is that, the ruling in The Hague has created a fair atmosphere that a small nation can go against a powerful country like China. At least, it was a moral and legal victory for the Philippines, explains Prof. Richard Heydarian of the De Lasalle University in Manila in a live broadcast interview.

Heydarian said that  the ruling is something that the Philippines can now use to make some concessions in so far as joint undertakings in the disputed territories are concerned.

But Atty. Harry Roque, an international lawyer and now a party-list congressman, explained that if China will not abide by the ruling as mandated by the arbitral tribunal in The Hague, the enforcement issue could be tackled by the Security Council. Otherwise, the U.N. General Assembly will decide as to whether or not U.N.-member nations will be asked to enforce the law.

While it's still premature to predict as to what will happen next, political observers were surprised to find that there's an atmosphere of calm now prevails in the disputed territories.In fact, a local government official in the municipality of Pag-Asa confirmed over a live broadcast that Filipino fishermen can now go about their usual fishing activities without being harassed by the Chinese Coast Guards. However, it wasn't immediately known if the disputed areas will be temporarily open to all fishermen who wish to catch marine resources there.

In the past, the Chinese Coast Guards wouldn't allow Filipino fishermen to catch fish in the disputed territories. Most were driven away by bombarding them with water cannons, which sent them scampering in different directions to flee.

After the ruling was handed down on July 12, China may have gotten the message across so that it is now on the wait-and-see attitude. And there is a strong possibility that bilateral negotiations between the two countries may take place in the soonest possible time.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Body of beheaded Canadian found in Sulu

File photo shows beheaded Canadian Mr. Robert Hall (left). 
The body of the late Robert Hall, the Canadian national beheaded by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) bandits last June 13, has been dug-up and recovered in Sulu Saturday morning.

Major Filemon Tan, Western Mindanao Command spokesperson, said Hall's decaying remains were recovered by troops of Joint Task Group (JTG) Sulu around 11:35 a.m. in Upper Kamuntayan, Talipao, Sulu.

"The body is currently being brought by the troops to JTG Sulu Headquarters at Barangay Busbus, Jolo , Sulu for documentation before turn over to the PNP SOCO (scene-of-the-crime operatives)," he added.

Hall was beheaded by the ASG last June 13. His head was later recovered by civilians in front of the gate of the Jolo Cathedral.

Hall, together with John Ridsdel, Kjartan Sikkengstad and Marites Flor, was abducted last Sept. 21 at the Ocean View Resort in Barangay Camudmud, Samal City, Davao Del Norte. Sikkengstad is the only remaining kidnap victim with the ASG as Flor was freed by her kidnappers last week.

The Western Mindanao Command decries the barbaric act of the ASG in beheading its captives which can be described as contrary to the Islamic teachings.

Focused military operations in the area are being undertaken to neutralize the Abu Sayyaf terrorists and possibly rescue the remaining kidnap victims. (P. Nepomuceno, PNA)

Kill the drug lords, not the drug addicts

What a sad news to read that newly elected Philippines' President Rody Duterte was quoted by The Washington Post to have ordered the killing of "drug addicts", a departure from his earlier statements which ordered civilians and the police to only "kill drug lords and pushers" if they resist arrest or they fight back.

President Rody Duterte hands over saber to the newly installed AFP
Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ricardo Visaya. Outgoing
Chief of Staff Gen. Glorioso Miranda looks on.
Photo: M. Pascua, PCOO, PNA
In fact, President Duterte even urged members of the military to help the law enforcers contain the spread of illegal drugs and arrest those drug dealers who are destroying the future of the young generation and the Philippine society in general. Duterte made this call during a turnover rites at the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.

In the Martial Law years, the late President Ferdinand Marcos had approved the deployment of "secret marshals", a bunch of law enforcers who were licensed to kill any criminal caught on the act of perpetrating a crime. When words came out in the media that "secret marshals" in civilian clothes would be riding public transportation such as buses and jeepneys anytime of the day, crimes had considerably dropped to the delight of the commuters.

For me, it was a media stunt to warn criminals in advance not to commit crimes which had victimized ordinary civilians on their way to work or home. And in order to protect the public from unwanted harm from criminals, the idea of sending law enforcers, who were licensed to kill, was hatched. For a while, it was effective as those who wanted to stage a robbery inside public buses plying long distance routes were relieved when the perpetrators were shot and killed while they're committing the crimes.

Distinctively, President Duterte's style of running the government is likened to "authoritarianism."

Wikipedia defines authoritarianism as a style of leadership that is being used when "a leader dictates policies and procedures, decides what goals are to be achieved, and directs and controls all activities without any meaningful participation by the subordinates."

I think his latest order, which may have been taken out of context by the media, could have been to target "drug lords and dealers" instead of the "drug addicts" who can be described as plain users of illegal drugs.

Targetting the drug users is not practical at all. Their dependence on illegal drugs is even more spiked when there's an abundance of supply in the market. Therefore, blame the drug lords who are always on the lookout for people who can be trusted to peddle sachets of "shabu" whose retail price is readily affordable among the addicted populace.

And killing the drug addicts won't resolve the gargantuan problem of drug addiction in a country whose more than 70 percent of its population are impoverished. Perhaps, what the new administration can do is to set up more rehab centers that are fully funded and equipped with modern facilities and equipment in order to sustain the reforms needed to correct their drug addiction.

But the war on drugs must start with the barangay level, in coordination with the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Health (DOH), the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Dangerous Drugs Board.

In this concern, barangay officials and the law enforcers must closely coordinate on how to tackle the rising incidence of drug distribution and addiction. In order to cut addiction, the sources of illegal drugs' distribution must be cut. Likewise, close monitoring of drug dependents must also be  put in place after their discharge from the established rehab centers.